My husband comes through the door and goes directly to his seat on the couch. He turns on the TV and barely glances up when I kiss him and ask him how his day was. I serve him the meal I’ve been planning for a week. It is his favorite. He swallows it and goes out to mow the lawn and work in the yard, not coming in until after dark. Why doe the man hate me? What did I do?! What is this all about?
I am a thinker, so I process the world by thinking about things and trying to sequence them with logical patterns. If action A, then result B. The cool response by my husband to me must have something to do with what I said to him last night or what I forgot to do before he went to work. This may or may not be true, but the thing that will help us most at this point is not for me to drill into him about why he isn’t responding to me right now.
How to I know this is about me at all? Well, all I really know is that if I was in his place and treated him cooly, it would be because he offended me some way. I really don’t have insight into why he is acting the way he is acting right now, I only have my own way of doing things as possible motives. Do you see what I mean? The only lens I have to view his actions through are my own actions in the same situation. He sees the world through a completely different set of lenses, and on top of that experiences a whole different set of things I don’t know about. Does he hate me? What if he was so preoccupied with getting the yard done before it rains because he knows my family is visiting this weekend that he didn’t notice I kissed him, cooked for him or even looked at him? That is hard for me to see on my own. What can I do to change lenses and see things more clearly? I have to judge my own judgments.
None of us are motivated by the exact same things. Each of us has a history that makes us do things differently and for different reasons. My A leading to B is not your A that leads to the same B. And even when my A leads to B and yours does too, it takes a different path. Instead of assuming you know why your spouse is giving you the cold shoulder or is not responsive emotionally or sexually in a given situation, judge your judgment. Recognize first that you only think you know why they are doing what they are doing, that you really don’t know why. Ask questions. Use your judgments as entry points to understanding your spouse or your children or your friends, not as evidence to convict them. Say, “Hey, if I was acting this way in this circumstance, it would be because I was angry/sad/distracted/etc, what are you feeling right now?”
A warning. The reason this is so hard to apply to our relationships is that we rely on judgments more than we know. We do it all the time and we think it serves us well; it may serve us well in many cases. If you are a fairly intuitive person, you may get many judgments right. You develop a track record and a confidence that you are the kind of person who just “knows people” or you think you “know what makes people tick.” Trust me on this, you don’t know as much as you think. I mean, lets be reasonable – do you know why you do what you do all the time? You perfectly understand your own motives? I don’t. I find myself doing things I have no idea why I’m doing them. The implication of this is obvious: if we can’t get our own judgment about ourselves right, what makes us so sure we have anyone else sorted out?
Take this to heart and your marriage will improve today – it isn’t a miracle cure for all that ails us, but is a great way to start cutting down on meaningless arguments and misunderstandings and to begin building some trust in communication. Try it. Judge your judgments.